Co-written by Kelley McLaughlin.
The first thing you notice when you enter Crying Thaiger Rustic Thai Kitchen in Malden is that the walls are painted black. But that doesn't mean it's dark inside – the hip and edgy dark walls are colorfully decorated with metallic vintage Thai advertisements, and two distressed wooden accent walls work in concert with wooden tables and touches throughout the restaurant of popping, sunshine yellow to give the space a delightfully modern, quirky Bohemian feel. Tiny dollhouse furniture (also painted black) is nailed to the wall, plants and assorted novelties hang on shelves throughout, and mason jars filled with flowers sit on astroturf-lined window sills. Sun pours in from a wall of glass, but if it's too much the staff is very happy to pull the curtains closed for you. (Bonus - for a giggle, check out the bathroom, which is decorated with novelty signs. We won't spoil those for you!)
This sense of balance factors into everything at Crying Thaiger, where the food is rich, the palette is diverse, and sweet, sour, salt, and spice all blend together in a congruous combination.
While you browse the menu, the staff brings you ornate aluminum cups full of cold water and ewer for top-ups. The cups are beautifully patterned and pleasantly cool - but not cold - to the touch. Quiet modern pop music plays in the background, and while the space certainly feels lively, even at capacity it's still possible to easily have a conversation without competing to be heard over the din of other tables.
The menu features a range of familiar options like pad thai and tom yum to more home-style options like larb and Thai omelet. Many dishes are customizable: choose your protein, your heat level, and whether you want it vegetarian. For the indecisive orderer, there are also helpful "thumbs-up" emojis scattered throughout, indicating recommended dishes. The weekday lunch special, which runs from Monday to Friday from open until 3 p.m., includes a selection of both new and old. The special includes your choice of one appetizer and one entrée. The special price depends on your choice of protein, and ranges from $11.95 to $16.90.
Since we were popping in on a weekend, we couldn't order the weekday lunch special, but we were able to order the same entrées in slightly bigger proportions for slightly higher prices. After deliberation we ordered Gra Tiem with tofu ($14.95) and Thai Iced Tea ($3.95), and Crying Thaiger curry ($15.95) with vegan duck (+$1.95) and Thai Iced Coffee ($3.95).
We visited at 1:30 p.m., after the initial rush, but the restaurant was still full. Despite that, our food came quickly, the drinks first, in mason jars: At the bottom, the coffee or tea, and on top, a separated creamy layer. We took a moment to stir the layers together, taking pleasure in the small interactiveness and the satisfying swirl of the different shades mixing.
The Thai Iced Tea was nice and sweet, but not cloying. It was a bit like a melted creamsicle, milky and vaguely fruity, but it was not viscous and was not like drinking a dessert. It had a distinct flavor, but will not clash with any dish. Paired with a spicy meal like the curry, it was refreshing between bites. The Thai Iced Coffee had a deep roasty, almost caramelized flavor. Unlike with the iced tea, the coffee flavor was forward, though this was balanced out by the combination of being sweet and creamy.
On the menu, Crying Thaiger's Gra Tiem is described as "Garlic lover's heaven with this classic Thai's stir-fried [choice of protein] with caramelized garlic, ground white pepper, carrot, and onion." We received a plateful of our chosen golden fried tofu, lightly coated in sauce and liberally sprinkled with fried garlic, on a generous bed of carrots and onions, with a side of rice. The tofu was chewy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, blooming with the taste of garlic and a zingy mix of salty, light sweetness, and just a hint of sour.
The fried garlic added an element of crunch, but not so much as to make it difficult to chew or an unpleasant sensory experience. The vegetables were cooked just right and not at all mushy.
It was garlic and onion heavy, so if you are not a fan of alliums, or if you have an important meeting after lunch, this might not be the dish for you.
Finally, the Crying Thaiger curry, a combination of red curry and peanuts, mildly spicy. It was packed with broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, and protein of choice - in our case, vegan duck. As with the tofu, the portion was generous, and it came with a side of rice. The peanut taste melded perfectly with the red curry, creating a new creamy, hearty taste with low heat. The vegetables were crisp and fresh, and the vegan duck had great texture and chew. (It had absolutely none of the weird seasoning or aftertaste that some mock meat products have.) We both enjoyed this curry immensely, especially with our creamy ice cold drinks on the side.
We have heard several people say that when they visited Crying Thaiger years ago, the food was either "meh" or "not good at all." To those people we say, give it another try! The food that we had was excellent, and the portions were generous. The dining area had a lighthearted, sunshiney vibe, and the staff was attentive. The atmosphere of charm and relaxation makes it a fun spot for a first date, a night out with friends, or even a formal dinner with family. And since it has such an expansive menu, we see plenty of reasons to visit again. (Even if we might be tempted to get the Crying Thaiger curry "just one more time", every single time we go.)
Crying Thaiger is at 114 Ferry St. in Malden.
Review from the Independent Review Crew.